The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories

Fans can misinterpret movies or books so badly that they end up becoming the exact same things the authors were warning them about.
The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories

Most popular works of art have some sort of message. Star Wars teaches us to fight the evil in ourselves in order to fight the evil outside ourselves; The Godfather warns us against the corrupting powers of greed; and Prometheus promotes the practice of running sideways if a tall object is falling on you. Unfortunately, sometimes the message gets lost and fans misinterpret the movie or book so badly that they end up becoming the exact same things the authors were warning them about, with hilarious and/or tragic results.

The Great Gatsby Criticizes Decadence, Inspires Parties

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories

The Great Gatsby is that 1920s American novel with hidden pictures of naked women on the cover. It's also deeply critical of the self-indulgent lifestyle of rich people with more money than scruples, like that Gatsby dude in the title. True, the story does feature quite a few parties, but Gatsby just throws them to attract a ditsy flapper girl, a relationship that doesn't end well (SPOILERS: everyone dies). As a result, Gatsby's parties turn out to be empty and meaningless affairs -- sometimes literally empty, like that time he turns on all his lights as though he's throwing a party, but no one's there.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
"'Oh, Gatsby! Now I know why they call you great!' I sure am, old sport! And not talking to myself right now!"

Due to its critical tone and tragic ending, the story has been called a "cautionary tale of the decadent downside of the American dream." You can debate whether the big-budget Leo DiCaprio movie adaptation grasped the message of the book, but we know one group of people who absolutely didn't.

The Fans Who Missed the Point

Yeah, it turns out that when your story has rich people dressed fabulously in opulent surroundings drinking classy liquor, fans aren't as likely to say "Look at the selfishness, hypocrisy, and moral vacuum" as they are to say "That party is AWESOME. Let's do that." For instance, rich people love throwing non-ironic "Gatsby parties," unaware that invoking the name of the novel basically amounts to admitting that the world would be a much better place without you.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
"The firecrackers are all made from poor children's letters to Santa."

A few years ago, Prince Harry attended a Gatsby-themed 21st birthday party that cost $25,000 to throw. The following year, Paul McCartney threw his own expensive Gatsby birthday gala (although they're Brits, so in their case we could at least understand why they'd want to dance on the corpse of the American dream). Meanwhile, if you dare venture into Pinterest, you'll find page after page of users collecting material for Gatsby-themed weddings. As Zachary Seward of The Atlantic puts it, "It's like throwing a Lolita-themed children's birthday party."

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Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
"Nice gun for my hubby to shoot after I die in a car crash. (11 repins, 7 likes)"

The Gatsby craze revved up even further before the release of the film. In London, newspapers had to advise their readers about which of the many Gatsby parties they should favor. And CNN, while actually conceding that the book critiqued this sort of thing, offered up a guide on hosting your own Gatsby bash. For babies.

Tonya Joy via Layla Grayce via CNN
Because there's nothing they like more than some Fitzgerald before nap time.

127 Hours Fans Love Getting Stuck in Dangerous Canyons

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories

127 Hours is a film starring James Franco as real-life hiker Aron Ralston who, in 2003, went on a hike in Blue John Canyon, Utah, fell into a ravine, and became trapped under a boulder. Since Ralston did not tell anyone that he was going hiking, no one knew where to look for him, and he ended up spending 127 hellish hours trapped in the canyon ... oh, and having to amputate his own arm with a cheap multi-tool knife to escape.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Yes, the movie had a masturbation scene, and yes, he had to go lefty. This is a true story of tragedy.

The Fans Who Missed the Point

127 Hours has a pretty clear moral: For fuck's sake, if you must go hiking alone, tell someone where you're going and be careful, or else you'll have to cut your own fucking arm off. And yet hikers like Amos Wayne Richards walked away from the movie with the message, "Wouldn't it be neat to go hiking in the exact same place that guy did, and also not tell anyone about it?"

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
This is like seeing Pulp Fiction and thinking, "Hey, let's visit the basement of a pawnshop."

Keep in mind, Richards wasn't some dumbass 20-something James Franco wannabe -- he was 64 years old. And, of course, while 60 feet down a 70-foot-deep ravine, Richards slipped and fell the last 10 feet to the bottom. During the fall, he dislocated his shoulder, bumped his head on a rock, and broke his leg. It took Richards four days to crawl out of the ravine, and by the time the park rangers found him, he had already finished all of his water. If someone adapted his story into a movie, it'd be called 96 Hours (of Stupidity).

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Followed by the sequel, 31 Hours (on an IV).

In the end, it's the collective dumbness of 127 Hours fans that saved Richards. The park rangers at Blue John Canyon realized that Richards was missing because they were used to the influx of hiking enthusiasts to the canyon since 127 Hours was released. In fact, since 2005 (Ralston's biography came out in 2004), more than two dozen rescues have been performed in that same area -- between 1998 and Ralston's incident, that number was "none."

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Who wouldn't risk everything for that view?

Let this be a lesson to Hollywood writers everywhere: If you write a movie where your main character is forced to cut his own limb off and drink his own urine, people will go out of their way to try to end up in the same situation. Likewise ...

Into the Wild Inspires Fans to Get Lost in the Wilderness


Into the Wild (both the book and the 2007 film) tells the real story of Christopher McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, an idealistic young man who dealt with the aimlessness of post-college life by taking off to live alone in the Alaskan wilderness -- it was the '90s, so his only other option was forming a shitty alt-rock band.

Christopher Newport University

As we've previously pointed out, this was a pretty misguided idea, since his little adventure was fueled more by "misunderstanding Emerson and Thoreau" and less by "knowing what the fuck he's doing." McCandless died alone in an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere, but neither the film nor the book shy away from this fact, portraying him as a good guy who fell victim to some foolish choices.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Mostly involving hair.

The Fans Who Missed the Point

So what do you do after you read a book where the main character ends up dying a slow, miserable death due to his own stupidity? Why, you copy that stupidity, of course. Since the book was released, hundreds (if not thousands) of fans have made their way to the site where McCandless died, like a pilgrimage to Mecca for overprivileged grad students. Not all of them have survived.


In 2010, a Swiss fan died trying to cross a treacherous river on her way to see the bus -- the same river that trapped McCandless and caused his death in the book she loved so much. Another young fan from Oklahoma has been missing since March of this year after trying to pull a McCandless in the mountains of Oregon. At least those two had come somewhat prepared. Others, like fan Marc Paterson, have decided that they want to make the trip as authentic as possible ... which means taking the exact same (ridiculously dangerous) route as their hero and bringing the same limited amount of supplies, food, and common sense that McCandless had.

Fans like Paterson talk about testing their limits and rebelling against modern life, but here's the thing: That plan didn't work out so well for McCandless. As evidenced by the journals he left, his journey did not lead to any sort of greater enlightenment. He was hungry and afraid and trying to escape that place. If he had come across a McDonald's, he would have traded his entire philosophy for some McNuggets.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"We can enlarge your French fries if you add your dignity as well."

But hey, Paterson did equip himself with one vital piece of equipment that McCandless didn't have: a copy of Into the Wild. We can't wait until he gets to the end.

Atlas Shrugged Fans Love Government Bailouts, Stupid Laws


Most novels are easy to misinterpret one way or another, but you can't do that with Atlas Shrugged, as hard as you'd try. In addition to its continual, explicit, preachy monologues, it devotes 60 pages to an uninterrupted three-hour speech that lays out every bit of author Ayn Rand's philosophy, called objectivism. This urges selfishness over altruism, volition over coercion, rationality over faith, and, above all, verbosity over conciseness.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Rand also argues for destroying her brother, Thor, and the other Avengers.

The Fans Who Missed the Point

If we had to list everyone who said they liked Atlas Shrugged but then did the opposite of what the book says, we'd be here all day. But we can certainly list the most ridiculous ones.

Plenty of CEOs love Atlas Shrugged, for instance, which isn't too surprising, since most of the book's heroes are CEOs. Yet these fans seem to forget that the book's villains are also CEOs. So when AIG's stock shot up after the government bailed them out with $85 billion and CEO Bob Benmosche thought he deserved a pat on the back, he wrote: "But as I learned in Atlas Shrugged, find your Thank Yous from within." The villains in Atlas Shrugged were CEOs who ruined the economy but profited from government bailouts.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images
"And as I also learned in Atlas Shrugged ..." *shrugs, walks away*

Meanwhile, the book also criticizes government torture and targeted killing, denounces the concept of religion, and roundly ridicules anyone who trusts feelings over scientific fact. So, of course, the book is hugely popular with the folks at ... Fox News. Glenn Beck recommends it, and Sean Hannity likes it so much that he lobbied his way into a cameo in the book's low-budget, lower-grossing film adaptation. The same Sean Hannity that supports waterboarding and the same Glenn Beck that thinks there's an atheist conspiracy.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
The movie also featured cameos by every conservative movie star ever. They are in this photo.

But the award for absolute worst misunderstanding of Atlas Shrugged has to go to Idaho state senator John Goedde. Goedde said the book taught him personal responsibility and convinced his son to be a Republican. So when he found himself angry with some of the changes in his state's graduation requirements, he introduced (largely symbolic) legislation requiring all students to read Atlas Shrugged before they graduate.

That's right: Worried that your students are growing up believing the government has the right to coerce them into doing things? Why, better have the government coerce them into reading a book against government coercion! That'll do the trick!

Also, make it look as much like a made-for-TV movie as possible.

Finding Nemo Inspires Kids to Separate More Fish from Their Families

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories

Finding Nemo tells of a fish caught and put in a tank until his father, Marlin, finds him and they escape back to the sea. Even a 5-year-old can tell that this movie doesn't exactly paint keeping fish as mascots in a good light: Fishing is portrayed as kidnapping, a fish tank is portrayed as a prison, and the closest thing to a villain the movie has is an ugly little girl who keeps accidentally killing her pet fish by shaking them in their baggies.

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Pretty sure she grew up to become the lady from Misery.

The Fans Who Missed the Point

So, naturally, thousands of kids who loved the movie responded with "Let's kidnap a cute little fish and keep it in a cruel prison!" And the parents who were forced to sit through the thing 10 times did exactly that.

Demand for tropical fish exploded right after the film's release, especially for clown fish and blue tang, the main characters' species. And just like the evil little girl in the movie, many new pet buyers had no idea how to take care of their pets and ended up killing them. You see, saltwater tropical fish aren't fish that you can just throw into a goldfish bowl; they need a 30-gallon aquarium with carefully controlled salinity levels or they'll die, but most kids stopped listening to the instructions at the word "saltwater."

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Sean Justice/Lifesize/Getty Images
If this kid treats his pets like we treated our G.I. Joes, that fish better be flame resistant.

The rise in demand took fish importers by surprise. They first walked out of Finding Nemo worried because the moral was clearly "Fish should not be separated from their friends in the ocean," but audiences bought so many fish that they threatened whole sections of the reef the film celebrated. Populations of clown fish dropped by 75 percent in some areas.

The 5 Most Insanely Misunderstood Morals of Famous Stories
Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
You could say that it's harder now to Locate Marlin.

This isn't the first time something like this happened. These fads usually crop up when a movie portrays what delightful pets the animals make, like the Dalmatians in 101 Dalmatians (which are actually aggressive, untrainable beasts that get abandoned or put down) or Harry Potter's owls (most were dumped when it turned out they don't grant magic powers or British accents), but Finding Nemo is different, because this time the whole premise of the movie was freeing the animal from being a pet.

Then again, pet owners who took that premise to heart didn't respond much better. Some released their venomous fish into the ocean, ruining Florida's ecological balance. Others flushed fish down the toilet to free them; these fish died before even reaching the sewers. Hopefully when Pixar makes the inevitable sequel, the message will be "Kidnapping fish is awesome and you should murder them as much as possible."

Joe Oliveto has a pen name. His pen name has a Twitter and a dark comedy serial. Menezes too broke down and got himself a Twitter page. His current whereabouts are unknown. Miles DuBonnet also sometimes does stand-up comedy. Feel free to watch it. Translation: Please watch it.

For more things that people just don't get, check out 8 Historic Symbols That Mean The Opposite of What You Think and 6 Pieces of Music That Mean The Opposite of What You Think.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Reasons 2015 Could Be the Movie Industry's Worst Year Ever.

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Extra Credit: The world of crazy fans is wider than this little ol' article -- here are four more groups of fans who lost their minds. Apparently, the Boston Marathon bomber is sexier than Justin Bieber. But not all fans go insane in a bad way: These super-fans used their love of Friends to find out exactly how much sex each cast member had. Alright, so MAYBE that is insane in a bad way. Close your study on fandom with a look at the archetypal fans who ruined sports for everyone else. Streaking had to start somewhere.

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